Hi, I just finished book #26 of 2015, and as you may have assumed, it was High Fidelity by Nick Hornby. You also probably assumed that I loved it, which is true. I loved this book so much. In a weird and kind of disturbing way, I related to Rob, the main character, a lot. Like a lot. Which is funny, because he’s kind of the worst during the majority of the book.
They made this book into a movie starring John Cusack. I haven’t seen the movie, but I guess I could see him as a Rob, maybe. Anyway, I have the movie soundtrack in my car right now, and it’s really great. So if you don’t read this book, or even watch this movie, at least listen to this soundtrack.
Back to the book: the whole novel is told from the perspective of the self-deprecating, pop music, culture, and list-obsessed Rob. His personality is defined by an assortment of “top 5 favorite _____” lists, otherwise known as his “desert island lists.” He owns and runs a failing record shop in Holloway, and employs two equally music-obsessed men, who he never really refers to as friends, but rather “people whose phone numbers I haven’t lost.”
The story begins with Rob being left by his long-term girlfriend, who is moving out of Rob’s place and moving in with a guy who used to live in their building. He only finds out that he was being left for someone else a little bit later, and it turns into an obsession. Which I think is why I find Rob to be so relatable: everything turns into an obsession with him.
He spends too much time thinking about almost all interactions, he obsessively keeps lists, not only top 5 lists, but also of people he’s slept with and all his past girlfriends. Even his record collection is an obsessive list where he has the ability to pinpoint the chronological order in which he purchased them, no small feat because, based on his descriptions, his personal record collection is enormous.
All of this makes him frustrating, because he ends up spending so much time wallowing in the past, making up the future, and just in general acting irrationally. But it also made him extremely endearing to me, because I can relate but also because I think a lot of people can relate.
He messes up his relationship with Laura (the girlfriend leaving him at the beginning) using pure apathy as a defense mechanism more than anything else. And he spends the whole book entertaining this underlying philosophical chicken-or-egg question: is he sad because he listens to pop music, or does he listen to pop music because he’s sad?
The picture that he paints of his life is just kind of pathetic and quiet, and yet I rooted for him hard the whole time after he made it his mission to win Laura back. He’s not a great person, his morals are shaky and sometimes nonexistent, but somehow every bad thing he did invoked sympathy in me, for him just as much as for the person he was hurting or screwing over.
All of which speaks to how great Nick Hornby is at writing. He created such a real character in Rob, and in Laura and every other character in the book. His writing style is dry and hilarious, and he somehow made Rob the most self-aware and simultaneously oblivious character I’ve ever come across.
Music, in this novel, is almost its own character because of how deeply ingrained it is in almost every conversation. I don’t think music is an easy thing to write about, either, but Hornby does it crazy well.This book gave me new perspective on loneliness, love, why we run away from love, and an excellent, extensive playlist to listen to at work. ◊
It’s no good pretending that any relationship has a future if your record collections disagree violently, or if your favorite films wouldn’t even speak to each other if they met at a party.”
– page 117
Oh we know, both of us, that it shouldn’t matter, that there’s more to life than pairing off, that the media is to blame, blah blah blah. But it’s hard to see that, sometimes, on a Sunday morning, when you’re maybe ten hours from going down to the pub for a drink and the first conversation of the day.”
– page 185